I have a problem. And it is that President Peter Mutharika has no problem.
Something happened in the presidency last week and it wasn’t just Mutharika I had a problem with. Vice-President Saulos Chilima is famed for being reticent, measured and cultured in his speech, but last Friday, he cast that facade aside and embraced his more cryptic persona of ‘snakes’ and ‘idiots’.
Just as he did a few months ago when he warned Mutharika against poisonous snakes around him, on Friday he shushed off ‘idiots’ from commenting on legal, economic and social issues on which they have little to zero knowledge about.
I can understand his exasperation. Times are tough and almost everyone in Malawi has turned pundit on one subject or the other over which they have little to zero knowledge. That, however, hardly makes them idiots, Mr Vice President. If someone is running off their mouths without making any sense, you turn off your attention without silencing them.
They may be making uninformed commentary on a matter they have no expertise, but if they are personally affected by legal, economic and social issues, especially where the government is concerned, no-one—not even Chilima—has the right to gag them.
A businessperson at Nsipe does not need to be an economist to realise that the economy is comatose; he feels everyday with the rising costs of goods. A person at Ntaja does not need to have a law degree to know that some of these needless arrests are the mark of desperation rather than a point of law. The people who coined the adage ‘wamisala anawona nkhondo’ were no fools; they knew even idiots may teach you a lesson or two if you listen attentively to their mindless chatter.
This is the type of intolerance of criticism that brought down the first guise of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and it would be a colossal shame for this reincarnation to follow the same route of political destruction.
If Chilima’s admonition was bizarre, nothing came close to Mutharika’s clowning when he opened a small section of the Masauko Chipembere Highway on Saturday.
One shudders to think what Chilima and Mutharika scheme when they meet up. A vice-president who brooks no dissent and a president who has no problem is such a toxic combination that it is unprecedented in spite of all the bad presidents and vice- presidents Malawi has had.
Mutharika gave official approval to popular Zambia song, Nilibe Pulobulemu by Magigi featuring Dalisoul, when he told his gathering that ‘Nilibe pulobulemu’. Joseph Nkasa and police officers would wish Mutharika had similarly endorsed Phungu’s song, Anenere, about the plight of law enforcers.
But, give it to him, Mutharika was right, although his ill-advised attempt at humour was out of touch, insensitive, an arrogant display of indifference and degrading for a man of his stature. On the scale of awkwardness, it ranks on the same level as the late Bingu wa Mutharika’s ‘Si ine wa poliyo’.
Indeed, Mutharika has no problem. He doesn’t queue for maize, he has thousands of bodyguards for security, he doesn’t know the price of petrol, he doesn’t buy his own food and clothes, he doesn’t pay school fees, he doesn’t pay rent, he attends foreign hospitals, he doesn’t pay bills, he doesn’t owe katapila. How could such a person have problems?
It is the people, Mr President, who have problems struggling to finance the lifestyle of a man who has no problems, whose problem was supposed to be their problems.